Monday Night Football. The final play of the Seahawks – Packers game. The Seahawks need a touchdown to win. Russell Wilson sends his receivers deep into the corner of the end zone, says a Hail Mary, and heaves a ball into their general area hoping a Seahawks player gets on the end of the ball. After a brief scramble and a tussle on the ground two referees stand over the players and suddenly signal touchdown — Seahawks win.
And that’s when every sports fan’s nightmare scenario begins. The referees review the play on video, see that the offensive player fouled a defender to clear himself space, and see that the Packers’ other defender is above the Seahawks player and seems to catch the ball first, but award the touchdown anyway. If American football has been using video replay since the 90s and still can’t get all the calls right then introducing video replay to the Premier League would not only kill the flow of the game but be pointless as well, right?
Wrong. There are problems with video replay but the good far outweighs the bad.
I watched a lot of American football as a kid almost all of it on television and all of it under constant review by the commentators. I can’t remember watching a single sporting event as a kid (other than the games I played in) without commentators reviewing every play, stopping the action, rewinding, and showing multiple camera angles. All of which was in order to show us what the correct call should have been. My overwhelming impression from that period is that the officials got a lot of calls wrong.
The one poor call that stands out most in my mind was Vinny Testaverde’s “ghost touchdown”. In American football, the ball need only break the plane of the end zone for a touchdown and as you can plainly see, the ball did not break the plane. Testaverde’s helmet arguably didn’t even break the plane. But a touchdown was called, video replay was not consulted, Seattle was robbed of a win, failed to make the playoffs, and the very next year video replay was (re)introduced to American Football.
Since then, video replay refereeing has been such a smashing success that despite the few high profile blown calls almost no one is calling for an end to video refs. In fact, quite the opposite, after every blown call the fans demand more refinement and more in-depth reviews of plays. The fans in America demand that the referees have the same view of the game that they have and that they make the calls based on what they see rather than what they are allowed to call.
That last bit “what they are allowed to call” is the sticking point for all the calls in question. The reason that the Seahawks won the game against the Packers is because the officials missed the Seahawks receiver fouling the defender live. If they then see the foul committed in replay for the first time, they are not allowed to call the play the right way.
Similarly, officials who are not allowed to use video technology (such as the officials in the Premier League) must at the very least watch Match of the Day and rue the calls that they blew and that they were not allowed to get right because the Premier League is stuck in the 1990′s and won’t allow referees to use video to get more calls right.
Note that I said “more calls right” not “all the calls right” because no matter what system you implement you will never get all the calls right, it’s just not possible. The first obstacle to perfection is that when you institute a video replay system someone has to decide what players can be reviewed and what plays cannot. Therefore, by definition some plays will continue to be called incorrectly.
In addition to that there’s an infinite regression problem with refereeing by video. The more technology we implement to monitor the games, the smaller and smaller the margins become when calling them. For example, if we want to review offsides one could imaging debate arising over when the ball left the boot relative to the position of his teammate. “Was there space between the ball and boot?” Could be the question that many would debate aided by slow motion, digital enhancement, and probably even a telestrator or two.
I know, you are probably shocked, SHOCKED, to discover that video referees are not perfect. But then they don’t have to be perfect for them to be used effectively in the Premier League. The current referee system is far from perfect, so video referees would just have to be better. And especially better with the really big calls. That this Seahawks game is such a huge deal is exactly because it happens so very rarely in the NFL. Ask yourself how many Premier League games have been decided by a terribe refereeing decision. This year..
The Premier League though is stuck in the 1990s when it comes to video replay refereeing. The League is no longer just a local concern: something for a few thousand people from a catchment area around a stadium to go see on the weekends. The League is now beamed into millions of people’s homes and pubs around the world. And the viewing audience get to see every controversial call run and re-run ad infinitum both in the original broadcast and now on YouTube and via GIFs. The medium is the message and the message that the rest of the world is getting is one of a musty old product that’s been stuffed into a sleek new box.
Despite the various and high profile failings of American Football’s video replay scheme there are precious few fans who seriously want to abandon the video refereeing system. You might think that after the Packers were jobbed by the referees, who had the benefit of video replay, there would be a hue and cry to get rid of the video refs, but instead there are millions who want more video refereeing. People who demand more accuracy.
Sorry but it’s time for the Premier League to join the late 20th century and embrace this old technology. Once they do, though, they know, we will all wonder why we put up with the referees before video replay.
*Except Arsenal, HA HA